later school start times eyed to address young students facing a mental health crisis
California is the first state to order high school not to start before 8:30 a.m. Pediatrician Dr. Bert Mandelbaum hopes New Jersey will be second.
New Jersey is one of several states looking for later school start times, as teachers and health professionals are concerned about the impact of the epidemic on the mental health of young people.
“I think we’re at the right time because people want to hear and do the right thing for kids,” Mandelbaum, who chairs the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Task Force on Adolescent Sleep and School Start Times, told ABC News. . “I think epidemics have raised awareness of the need for mental health.”
While the task force has been advocating for later early times as a way to promote healthy sleeping habits in adolescents, Mandelbaum believes the epidemic toll led lawmakers to pass legislation last month proposing postponing statewide high school start times in New Jersey. Not before 8.30am in 2024-2025 school year. State Democrats said the bill “starts working to address this national youth mental health crisis.”
Other states that have submitted similar bills during the outbreak include New York, where the proposal is at committee level, and Tennessee, where it is referenced for summer studies. The Tennessee AAP chapter supported the bill in the “National Emergency in Child Mental Health.”
Several school districts, including Denver and Philadelphia, are also changing at a later start time.
“I think we’ve reached a tipping point,” Phyllis Payne, director of implementation of the Start School Letter, told ABC News, an organization advocating for later school start times.
The AAP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine are among the many health authorities that support late sleep to allow students to get a good night’s sleep – between 8 and 10 hours a night for teens.
The CDC found that most middle and high school students do not get enough sleep, which makes them more likely to have poor school performance, engage in unhealthy risky behaviors and suffer from depressive symptoms.
Later school start times will better match the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, allowing them to sleep later, experts say.
Research has found that in high school with late start times, from 8:30 a.m., students slept more, improved academic results and attendance rates, and reduced car crashes involving teenage drivers.
“Most high schools start at 7 or 7:30 in the morning – which puts these kids in a really bad situation,” Kimberly Fenn, an associate professor of psychology and director of Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab, told ABC. News. “Students will benefit from the fact that they can shift back any amount.”
According to Rebecca Spencer, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, early start times also limit light exposure in the morning, which can affect students’ learning.
“When we wake up in the dark instead, we have a lack of external warning signals, it’s time to wake up, the bright light needed to signal and help you focus,” Spencer told ABC News. “So if you take it away from young children, it presents it as triviality and carelessness, but it has a wide range of consequences. It will tell you how cognitive functions will work. It will tell you how they behave, behave and behave. Mood in the classroom.”
For this reason, among others, many sleep experts have spoken out against the possible movement of permanent daylight saving time, which Congress is currently considering instead of changing clocks twice a year.
“My guess is that sleep scientists will generally say, ‘Well, you should stop jumping back and forth.’ But from a sleep standpoint, it’s a good way to get to the standard time so you can get that light in the morning. More often,” Spencer said. “It helps their cognitive function.”
‘Change is challenging’
The Edina School District was the first district in the U.S. to make a later start time shift for their high school, moving from 7:20 p.m. According to research from the University of Minnesota, in the school year 1996-1997, by 8:30 a.m.
Other school districts across the country have made similar changes since then, although advocates in the later early years believe that tackling the issue at the state level will help address logical issues regarding parental work schedules and movement, such as programming school athletics.